BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Book Review: Black Magic


Title: Black Magic

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Author: Megan Derr

Pages: 284 pp

Price: $14.99 (paperback) / $6.99 (ebook)

Centuries ago, civil war divided the land into different kingdoms. Only Vindeia remained loyal to the Goddess, maintaining the temples and rites in Her honor. In return, the Goddess shares a portion of Her power and knowledge with Her devotees, particularly the High Paladin and the High Priest -- power and knowledge they need in their neverending battle with the soul-sucking demons of the Old North. 

When a priest is murdered inside the supposed sanctuary of the king's own castle, High Paladin Sorin is shocked when the Goddess sends a reviled necromancer to assist him in bringing the killer to justice. Except that the more time Sorin spends with Koray, the more he comes to realize that everything he believes about necromancers is wrong. Confronted with his own ignorance and prejudice, he begins to wonder who was truly responsible for the priest's murder, and what all of that has to do with the demons of the Old North and Vindeia's long-exiled Crown Prince.

The Goddess is determined to right the wrongs of the past and bring peace to the land ... but only if Her chosen listen to Her voice and to their own hearts, and set aside their fear and anger ....

I have read several of Megan Derr's novels and short stories, and I particularly enjoyed her short story collection, Once Upon a Dream. After downloading the free sample, I decided to give Black Magic a chance. Overall, I enjoyed the story, with only a few small complaints.

Firstly, I loved the characters. Koray is prickly, so used to being scorned and abused that he does not initially trust Sorin (despite the Goddess bringing them together). Sorin, meanwhile, has a lot of trouble overcoming his prejudices against necromancers (and demons) even with obvious nudges from the Goddess.

Then there is Emel, Sorin's second in command, and Brekk, the demon who is no longer a demon; and Cerant, the exiled Crown Prince who has been living as a soldier in southern Navath, and his alchemist/slave, Neikirk. Emel and Brekk risk being arrested and killed every time they meet, despite the fact that they know the Goddess has blessed their love. Cerant, meanwhile, has convinced himself that he is happy in Navath, tending his garden and occasionally fighting a rogue demon; never mind that he is hopelessly in love with Neikirk, but refuses to act on those feelings. Neikirk, equally in love with Cerant, is first frustrated by the latter's refusal to give in to his feelings, and then terrified that he will lose Cerant when he is recalled to Vindeia. 

Second, I love the world-building. This is a fascinating land, with lots of room for more stories. The Goddess is equally fascinating. She appears to be omniscient and omnipresent (e.g. She is able to hear silent prayers and see everything), but She is not omnipotent. Her devotees feel Her in their hearts as a warm pulse or a sharp pain, and can occasionally hear Her voice, but She cannot force them to do anything -- She can only encourage them and direct them to act. Sorin, for example, feels Her love and approval when he begins to realize that Koray is an ally, not an enemy, and possibly something more. Cerant feels her approval when he finally returns to Vindeia and takes up his role, not as king, but as High Priest.  

I do have a few complaints, though. For one, Black Magic needs a serious copy edit. Considering the number of typographical and grammatical errors, it looks as though it was given one read-through and then published; a corrected, second edition needs to be released.

There are also surprisingly few female characters in the story. The Vindeians may worship a Goddess, but there are no women in any position of authority, in either the government or the church. There is one off-hand reference to a Lady Winesta, a "young temptress" who has "become a grand lady," but she never appears in the story. There are also a few unnamed female necromancers and an unnamed female elder in the village where Cerant lives in exile, and a female alchemist ... and that's pretty much it. Focusing on the male protagonists makes narrative sense, but the dearth of female characters left me deeply uncomfortable.

Still, I enjoyed the story overall. It was a pleasure to lose myself in a romance epic fantasy solidly grounded in devotion to a Goddess. I hope Derr returns to this world again.

Recommended to fans of Jolene Dawe, Lindsey Buroker, Veronica Scott, and KJ Charles.


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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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